Charting the “Explosive” Growth in Clean Energy Jobs

top 15 sectors of green job growth

by Kate Gordon , Matthew Kasper, and Susan Lyon

There’s one thing we know for certain about green jobs: They are real, well-paid, and growing. The jobs that make up the clean energy economy are on the rise when jobs in many other sectors are slipping away or moving overseas. With 14 million unemployed Americans, they are a sign of hope in an otherwise stagnant economy.

In terms of sheer growth, the clean tech sector glows especially brightly. The July 2011 report “Sizing the Clean Economy” from the Brookings Institution and Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice makes clear that emerging clean tech sectors saw “explosive growth” in recent years.

In particular, the clean economy sector focused on clean energy—especially wind, solar, fuel cell, smart grid, biofuel, and battery companies—grew far more quickly than the economy as a whole. The Brookings report slices and dices the data in a number of ways. But most striking is the major jobs growth in clean energy between 2003 and 2010: Solar thermal and wind grew by 18.4 percent and 14.9 percent, respectively.

The above chart breaks down the top 10 of these specific clean technology industries in terms of their annual average percent change in jobs from 2003 to 2010.

Segments with initially very few jobs saw particularly dramatic change over time, though the total jobs in the segment may still be much smaller than in others with a larger baseline.

This chart breaks them down in terms of absolute change in jobs:

highest rates of green job growth

Some other facts and figures you should know about green jobs and the clean energy economy:

  • There are currently 2.7 million jobs in the “clean economy,” broadly defined to include both mature and emerging industries across the clean tech, transit, conservation, waste, agriculture, and other clean sectors.
  • The clean economy as a whole—not just the clean tech sectors discussed above—grew by 8.3 percent from 2008 to 2009, in the depths of the recession. This was almost double what the overall economy grew during those years. This is in large part thanks to the Recovery Act.
  • Median wages are 13 percent higher in green energy careers than the economy average.
  • Three separate programs for energy efficiency retrofits employed almost 25,000 Americans in three months since earlier this year. The Weatherization Assistance Program, Energy Efficiency Block Grant Program, and State Energy Programs collectively upgraded over half a million buildings since they began to ramp up earlier this year. These programs mainly hired construction workers, a key point during a time of particularly heavy unemployment in the construction sector.

In sum, the clean economy has continued to grow even while industries across America have had to lay off workers or close up shop. Instead of dancing on the grave of those few clean energy companies that do not make it, we need to support the smart growth policies and investments that can create more green jobs while strengthening our greater economy.

Kate Gordon is Vice President for Energy Policy, Susan Lyon is Special Assistant for Energy Policy, and Matthew Kasper is an intern with the Energy team at American Progress. The original version of this story can be found on the Center for American Progress website.

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8 Responses to Charting the “Explosive” Growth in Clean Energy Jobs

  1. dick smith says:

    Note to Kate Gordon. Check your link to “top 10 reasons why green jobs are vital”. #3 at that link says wind energy JOBS grew 35% annually (and created 35% of US power capacity). Yet, in this article you say 2003 to 2010 wind job growth was 14.9 % annually. Your 18.4% figure for solar voltaic is the same in both places. My assumption is that the 14.9% is the correct number for wind, and that the 35% JOB growth was a typo as it relates to job growth(i.e., the 35% was meant to apply only to the percent of US power capacity).

    Regardless, both were extremely helpful–including the links to the Brookings Report. I’m just now trying to get a handle on the green-jobs issue.

  2. SecularAnimist says:

    And this is exactly why the fossil fuel corporations are now funding an all-out attack on solar, wind and the rest of the renewable energy industry that is every bit as vicious as their campaign of deceit and denial of the problem of global warming. To people like the Koch Brothers, “job growth” means nothing. The only thing that matters is their profits. And they know full well that the growth of renewable energy means a massive transfer of wealth from the fossil fuel corporations to other sectors of the economy.

  3. For the green sector to grow, job creation needs to be of utmost importance. We discuss this, amongst other renewable energy topics, at The On Project. Help us spread the word and join the discussion!

  4. Mark says:

    Just an observation about first impressions. If you take a cold turkey glance at the two bar graphs, and all you know beforehand is “job growth”, then in the first nanosecond my strong first impression was (((massive decline))). I had to read and think and then deprogram the first impression. All that would be avoided if the bars were presented in the reverse order.

  5. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Excellent article on Clean Energy Jobs. The Future belongs to Clean Energy and as such it will generate much employment.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

  6. Jay Alt says:

    Nice. I searched for the graphs elsewhere online, by themselves and at Brookings and found nothing. It would be nice if they were put into easy to distribute *.jpg files.

  7. Joe Romm says:

    These are JPGs.

  8. Jay Alt says:

    Thanks. Not being very html savvy, I usually don’t think to pry items from source code. It worked for me here by searching for suffix you mentioned; just 8 jpgs to check.